computer viruses are real.
hackers and crackers are busy.
you must defend your system.

Computer Viruses and Other Attacks

Is someone trying to destroy your computer? Certainly!
Will they succeed? Not unless you let them.

Here are some tips for protecting your system from "malware" (viruses, worms, Trojans, etc.) and intruders. These apply to all kinds of computers, though some examples are specific to Windows. They are listed in approximate order of importance.

1. Back up your files. There are many things that can go wrong with a computer, and this protects you against all of them! Some files may warrant storage off-site for protection from fire.

2. Do not execute programs that come in e-mail. Doing this turns the full resources of your computer over to whoever wrote the program. This seems obvious, yet thousands of people intentionally ran the Goner Trojan just this month - December, 2001. (A Trojan program claims to do one thing, then does another.) Goner, like nearly all malware, is 100% harmless sitting on your disk. It requires your cooperation to make its mischief. Watch for less-familiar filename extensions such as .scr and multiple extensions such as .mp3.vbs that make a program look like something else.

3. Keep your software up to date. Most malware writers learn of vulnerabilities in e-mail programs and web browsers when upgrades are released to correct them. If you install the patch while they are writing the virus, you are safe. Windows users should visit at least once a month for security upgrades.

4. Insulate yourself from the Internet. Use a firewall if your connection is always on. (It's a good idea for dial-up connections, too.) Connect through a router if possible. Don't share files across the network unless an expert has configured your system.

5. Do not allow scripts in formatted (HTML) e-mail to run. Depending on which program you use, this may involve setting high security or treating e-mail like a restricted site on the Web.

6. In Internet Explorer, do not allow both scripts and Active-X controls to run automatically. Set one or both to ask you whether to trust the web site.

7. If you use applications that are vulnerable to macro viruses, e.g. Microsoft Word and Excel, test any file that is sent to you before you open it for use. This is probably the only time you will need virus detection software.

8. Do not pass on e-mailed virus alerts. They are simply another kind of virus that spreads by playing on your good intentions. If you are curious about these hoaxes and have time to spend, read about them at Real alerts are not distributed as chain letters.

Consistantly following these rules will protect you from nearly all malware and from most casual hacker attacks. In the event that an attack succeeds, tip number one will get you running again. Now you can tap the riches of the Internet without fear!

You may wish to take further precautions, especially for your business systems. Even so, your primary goal must be that everyone believe that you are serious about rules one and two.

Copyright 2001 Thomas David Nichols
Microsoft is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation.

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